Saturday, September 24, 2011
Racially heated posting sparks UC Berkeley outrage
Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer
BERKELEY -- A Facebook post announcing plans by a UC Berkeley Republican group to sell baked goods priced according to race, gender and ethnicity - "White/Caucasian" pastries for $2 and "Black/African American" pastries for 75 cents, for example - has drawn outrage on campus.
"I'm ashamed to know that I go to the same school with people who would say stuff like this," responded student Skyler Hogan-Van Sickle on Facebook. "I'm really trying to figure out how someone can be this hateful."
The campus Republicans, who expect to go forward with their "Increase Diversity Bake Sale" on Tuesday, say the event is meant to mock an effort by the student government to drum up support for SB185, a bill to let the University of California and the California State University consider ethnicity in student admissions. It's awaiting approval or veto by Gov. Jerry Brown.
"Our bake sale will be at the same time and location of a phone bank which will be making calls to urge Gov. Brown to sign the bill," posted six students who created the Facebook page. The purpose "is to offer another view to this policy of considering race in university admissions. The pricing structure of the baked goods is meant to be satirical."
But students say the joke is anything but funny. More than 200 students responded to the event, most opposed, and some violently so. One threatened to burn the table and set the cupcakes on fire. At least four student groups sent complaints to campus administrators, and a student-only meeting was set for Friday evening to discuss it.
"It's offensive because of the tactics that they chose," said Joey Freeman, a vice president with the Associated Students of the University of California, Berkeley's student government. "This should be done for constructive dialogue and debate. But not in a way I thought was, frankly, racist."
The posting describes five price levels for pastries, with the highest for "White/Caucasian," and the lowest for "Native American." A 25-cent discount is offered for women.
"If you don't come, you're a racist," the post declares.
Berkeley's tempest follows a series of racial and anti-Semitic incidents across UC campuses, which prompted UC officials to focus new attention on fighting hate speech among students.
In March at UCLA, a student posted a video of herself ranting about Asians. In 2010, UC San Diego students posted racial slurs and caricatures on Facebook, and used campus TV to belittle black students. Someone also hung a noose from light fixture in the library.
At UC Davis, six swastikas were found, including one carved into a Jewish student's door, and someone defaced the gay students' center.
At UC Merced, a video mocking efforts to create a Chicano studies program was posted on Facebook.
In 2010, UC President Mark Yudof described the incidents as "quite simply the worst acts of racism and intolerance I've seen on college campuses in 20 years." He created a committee to help campuses strengthen anti-hate policies. And next year, all students and employees will be asked to take a survey about campus tensions, said UC spokesman Steve Montiel.
At Berkeley, the Facebook posting violates no campus policy, said Gibor Basri, vice chancellor for equity and inclusion.
"The only policy it violates is the principles of community," he said, adding that a campus-wide letter will go out Monday. "We can use this as a teaching moment."
Shawn Lewis, president of the Berkeley College Republicans, was surprised by the number of critics and their harshness and said he agrees that race-based pricing is discriminatory.
"But it's discriminatory in the same way that considering race in university admissions is discriminatory," he said.
E-mail Nanette Asimov at email@example.com.